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American Annals of the Deaf

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Literacy and Your Deaf Child: What Every Parent Should Know

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By the middle of the school year, Heather’s writing was noticeably different. Her stories grew in length, and her sentences increased in complexity. She also came to enjoy watching her teacher’s reactions to the things that she wrote:

Who would have thought that a visit to my aunt’s place would be so exciting. She is really a very boring person and I dreaded going there because there is nothing to do. I usually watch TV or sit around until it is time to go home. But yesterday, my aunt’s dog gave birth to triplets. I was there to see the whole thing. They were so cute. . . .
And off she went writing. Her written stories were not always in good form grammatically, but they were alive and brought her much pleasure.

Boyd was a sixteen-year-old deaf boy who read at a first-grade level and had little interest in school. He started the year writing one or two sentences during the writing period, none grammatically correct and seldom did they make any sense. Early attempts to talk about what he had written were fruitless, and for about two months, the writing period remained a trying time for both Boyd and the teacher. Eventually the teacher came to realize that the insecurities in Boyd’s home life (he was undergoing a change in foster parents) and his lack of friends around the school were bigger barriers to his writing than his poor command of English. By this point, the teacher had developed a good rapport with Boyd and was able to have long conversations with him outside of the classroom. He then had Boyd write about some of their shared conversations. During his writing, Boyd would recall parts of what they had talked about and would ask the teacher for the English words for the signs they had used in their conversations. This was the turning point. His confidence in writing grew, and by the end of the school year, Boyd was writing up to one-and-a-half pages during the silent writing periods. His grammar was still weak, but his written vocabulary expanded considerably during this time.

What this teacher did in the classroom is something that you, as a parent of a deaf child, can readily do at home. You can do it by fostering a positive attitude toward writing, by rewarding his efforts, and by encouraging him to see writing as another tool for socially interacting with others. There is an old saying that the way a person signs or speaks is a part of who that person really is. Perhaps the same can be said for writing.


For hearing children, the four modes of language—listening–speaking and reading–writing—are closely related. They can be regarded as two interdependent pairs, with the second of each pair being an extension of the first. As with listening and speaking, reading and writing are mutually supportive of each other. If the ability in one declines, so will the ability in the other. They are also interactive in that good readers are generally good writers and good writers are generally good readers, but contrary to popular belief, children do not first learn to read before learning to write. In fact, child development researchers tell us that writing is actually an easier activity for young children to learn than reading. Parents who have witnessed their youngster experimenting with early writing (scribbling) in the most inappropriate places will heartedly agree.

Unfortunately, in the instructional approaches to reading, writing is given a very small role, if any, by those teachers who see reading as a sequence of discrete skills that have to be mastered as a separate language arts subject. We believe that writing, like reading, requires a working knowledge of the phonological system of English (i.e., the alphabetic system and sounds upon which print and script are based), and therefore, we think that reading taught together with writing would most likely accommodate different reading styles. In order to become good writers and readers, students must be taught how to organize their ideas, clarify their thinking, and examine implications derived from the context.

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